Torah Portion: Balak B’midbar(Numbers) 22:2-25:9
Haftorah Reading Micah 5:6-6:8
Our Torah portion today plays out a great drama of a pagan king, Balak, and his fear of the Israelites as they arrive at the border of his land. He engages the help of a seer by the name of Bilaam to come and curse the Israelites and in order to save his country.
To give us a little background, Balak was a Moabite king. Moav, the founder of this people, was the child of Avraham and Kuteria, whom Avraham took as a wife after Sarah’s death.
But now to the issue at hand. Balak sent a delegation to meet with Bilaam to secure his help to curse the Israelites. Bilaam said he must ask G-d for permission to go with them. G-d’s answer was clear. In B’Midbar/Numbers 22:12 G-d told him he could not go with them. If you read this portion you will also recall in 22:9 G-d asked Bilaam a question, “Who are these men with you?” This raises a question for us. Did G-d not know who they were? Surely He did. His question to Bilaam was meant to be a wake-up call. We see this in several other places in Torah. In Genesis chapter 3:9 we read where G-d called out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you?” He knew where they were but the question, like here, was meant as a wake-up call for Adam and Eve. In Genesis 4:9 G-d asked Cain, “Where is your brother Able?” Each of these cases were meant to give the person involved, the opportunity to examine for themselves where they were spiritually. They were meant to challenge these people to realize what a dangerous place they were in. G-d was giving them an opportunity to look at their life and change direction before it was too late.
In our reading today we see where Bilaam even used the Holy Name of G-d when he was speaking. (B’midbar/Numbers 22:13) So, evidently he was aware of who G-d was, yet he was ruled by his own greed for power and money. His own desires overruled what he may have known about G-d. In the other two cases we sited we can see the same pattern.
So Bilaam set out on his journey to Moav. Even then G-d sent him reminders of his wrong choice. He was so focused on his rebellion he did not see the angel in his path. So, G-d sent a talking donkey and an encounter with an angel to give him another chance to see what he was doing.
As we read this portion we see how destructive our own fleshly desires can be. This should give us all pause, are we open and listening to G-d or are we ruled by our own wants and desires? Sometimes G-d’s warnings are crystal clear and yet we choose our own way. Remember G-d grants us freewill. We are not compelled to obey and follow Him. If that were true we would be no more than robots. We are responsible for our actions and decisions.
First G-d warned Bilaam. There are two Hebrew words used here that can help us understand more clearly what is going on. In the first warning by G-d in 22:12, G-d used the word “imahem” for the word “with” in English. This word means to go with someone but not be a part of their goal or purpose – to be separate. In the second encounter with G-d, in verse 22:21, we read where Bilaam saddled his donkey and went with them. Here, the Hebrew word for with is “im.” This word means to be with someone, completely aligned with their purpose and goals. So, Bilaam had set his mind on following his own heart rather than listening to G-d and following His direction. Later, in 22:35, G-d allowed him to go with the men on the road but told him he would speak only the words G-d put in his mouth.
The lesson we learn from these verses is that even when G-d gives us specific warnings, even when His message is clear, even then, man can pervert them and justify going his own way. I expect we have all experienced this in our own lives. In Israel we had some good friends who had a three-year-old little girl. While at our house one day, a battle of wills began between the little girl and the mother over a cookie the little girl wanted. She asked over and over for a cookie and each time her mother said no. Both were getting frustrated when the mother blurted out, “Heather, you are just wanting to have your own way!” The little girl looked at her mother, relieved that she finally got it, and responded, YES! We all laughed at her innocence but it is a picture of how G-d must feel sometimes when He is speaking to us and we keep asking for things that are not in our best interest.
Sometimes we are like little children in our faith, we want our own way and embark on a path without listening to G-d’s warnings or direction. This never ends well for us. In fact, later in Bilaam’s life we read in Joshua 13:22, where he was killed in a battle between Israel and Moav. He is also mentioned in the Messianic Scriptures in Revelations 2:14-15 where the church of Pergamum was rebuked for following in the ways of Bilaam.
I urge all of us to follow G-d’s wake-up call when we hear it as we walk with Him. Always check your motivations behind the choices you make.